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Sunday, Nov 25, 2007

Forget about the noted indie director—this is the original medium manipulator. Let’s face it, anyone who stands as one of elusive author Thomas Pynchon’s favorite artist has to be something pretty special. Deconstructing Tin Pan Alley classics with a cacophony of found noises and non-musical accompaniment (Gunshots? Train whistles?), the bandleader and cultural critic was like Mitch Miller without the tired traditionalism. Today, he’s a forgotten footnote in the otherwise recognizable novelty song sect. Thankfully, this DVD presentation provides testimonials from those he’s influenced (Weird Al Yankovic) as well as a chance to see the man in his manic element.


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Sunday, Nov 25, 2007
by Quentin Huff

Here’s the scene: a fully decorated Christmas tree, a crackling fireplace flickering in the reflection of a champagne glass, red and white stockings and candy canes over the mantel,  a smile from the one you love. Luther Vandross sets the mood with “Please Come Home for Christmas”, followed by Faith Evans jamming to “Santa Baby” and Marvin Gaye with “I Want to Come Home for Christmas”. Slow Jams for Christmas is a joyous, slow-cooking romance-fest that works out very much like an R&B mixtape. It’s quite a treat: 20 songs on a single disc representing five decades of music, from the ‘60s (Nancy Wilson’s “What Are You Doing For New Year’s Eve?”) and ‘70s (“This Christmas” by the Whispers) to 2005 (“Merry Christmas, Darling” by Vanessa Williams). It’s probably the type of album you’d see advertised on a late night infomercial (“Order now, and we’ll throw in this champagne bottle opener!”). But the artists are the draw, with recordings of disparate styles and voices pulled together in a “One Christmas Under a Groove” sort of way. Dianne Reeves absolutely nails “Christmas Time is Here”. Other highlights are Boyz II Men’s ever-popular “Let It Snow”, which plays well year round, as well as Babyface’s medley of “It Came Upon a Midnight/The First Noel”. Toward the middle, the soul vibe dominates, culminating in selections from Al Green, Bobby Womack, Lou Rawls, and Freddie Jackson at the back end. Sweet and marvelous.


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Sunday, Nov 25, 2007
by Brian Bethel

Contemporary comics anthologies like the Chris Ware-edited Best American Comics 2007 offer a tempting number of opportunities to make sweeping statements about the nascence of the medium, the prospect of the graphic novel ascending as the new art form of the 21st century, and the possibilities lying before its preeminent artists. Yet Ware’s anthology lends itself better to this kind of self-indulgence than most. More than any other comics anthology compiled thus far, it feels like a genuine effort to craft a truly comprehensive picture of comics as they are today, with a gentle nudging towards the various directions they could possibly go.


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Sunday, Nov 25, 2007

Every once in a while, a true gem is unearthed from the mines of musical history. This debut is one such excavation, though archaeologists might have trouble dating the contents which, on first hearing, seem to be the aural equivalent of retro-futurist designs done on an Etch-a-Sketch. Originally released in 1980, the album is conjured from a slim palette and adheres to a stripped-to-the-bone ideal of sound, yet it is close to perfection. It is hard to recall any other album to which the terms “pastoral” and “neon” could be simultaneously applied.


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Sunday, Nov 25, 2007

How do you arrange your books?


Kate Holden’s piece in this Saturday’s Age asks the question: Can you fall in love with a man through the contents of his bookshelves? Following a visit to the Alexandre Yersin Museum in Vietnam and perusing the French-Swiss doctor’s stacks, she answers positively, and sets about dissecting her own shelves, and what they might say about her.


I want visitors to think I am smart. Or indeed, to prove that I am smart. Tasteful. Erudite and eclectic. All this manifested in the concrete evidence of the books I’ve read: the range of subjects; the impressive editions, the glorious colourful bindings. I had a moment of enthusiasm a few months ago when I was procrastinating from writing a, well, a newspaper column, and collected all my orange Penguins into a beautiful if ochreous slab of mid-20th century cleverness. It was not unknown, I went on to mutter, that I had deliberately placed certain books in more visible cases — or even on eye-level shelves — in order to best array the quality of my collection.


So, of course, this had me thinking – am I a conscientious shelver like Kate? Are my books arranged deliberately? What does it say about me that I, like Kate, hide my trade-size pop-thrillers in the darkest part of the shelf, while Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine takes pride of place in the living room alongside a large range of similarly-themed works?


The more I pondered, the more I realized that while there’s an element of the show-off in my arrangements, such conceit is really just for me. The smart books are at eye-level in the center of the living room to remind me what I’ve read, and what I’ve learned. Does it make me look smart to visitors? Possibly, but, to be honest, I find most visitors are more into my partner’s DVD collection than my books. He’s the coolest guy in the world because of his Fly special edition and his Star Wars prints; I’m hardly Mrs Awesome because I’ve dog-earned the works of David M. Rorvik.


More from Kate:


There had been times, I confessed sheepishly, when I’d had second thoughts and jumped up from the couch to adjust the display to even more advantageous effect. Some people gather their collections by subject; size of volume; author; Dewey decimal system; haphazardry; or have no books at all. I group mine by affection: most beautiful editions together, then the most beloved novels ...


I can’t say I’ve ever jumped off the couch to better arrange my books for prying eyes, but I get what Kate means. It’s as though we organize out books in such a way that makes the book the star, that makes the titles stand out. I wonder if I’m not subconsciously offering David M. Rorvik a comeback through his placement on my shelves. “Who’s that guy?” you want your visitor to ask. “Well,” you’ll say, “sit back, and let me tell you about the human robot…”


Or then there’s the chance your visitor might say, “Oh! David M. Rorvik – I love that crazy old guy!” and you have a coffee, a sleepover, and a friend for life. It hasn’t happened yet, but I don’t get that many visitors.


I might not be as calculated as Kate in my shelf-arranging, but I admit to desiring a similar amount of crazed control. I can tell when a volume is out of place in a single glance. I can stare at my shelves for hours wondering if this should go in travel lit, or if that should be over in anthropology, or even if I should finally put together a separate shelf for my collection of non-fic Pulitzer Prize winners. Is Sophie’s World correctly placed over there? Should The L-Shaped Room go back over here? Do I really need that Leonard Maltin movie guide from 1994? But, it’s an ever-evolving thing, the bookshelf. Never complete, never perfect.

So, as Kate suggests, it’s bookshelf as symbol of self. Our best airs go in front, no matter where we are, no matter who we interact with. Our dark sides hide in the shadows next to the James Patterson trade paperbacks, while the worldly, wonderful, and weird parts grab the spotlight, next to Rorvik on my shelf and Thucydides on Kate’s.


So, what was hiding in Yersin’s dark corners? Now there’s a question.


 


 


 


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